Meadow saffron Colchicum autumnale

A femme fatale of the wild flower world, as beautiful as it is deadly.

Meadow saffron contains the poison colchicine (note the scientific name Colchicum) and reports of people dying after mistaking it for wild garlic occur to this day.  It is also known as the "Autumn crocus", a name it shares with the somewhat similar looking Crocus nudiflorus . However unlike its namesake it is not actually a crocus nor is it a recent visitor to our shores - meadow saffron is actually a native British bloom.

Identification

Sleek and glossy, the six petals of meadow saffron are a rich purple colour - deeper on the inside than out - emerging from a long, white and stem-like tube. Encased within them are orange anthers. The flower appears to emerge directly from the ground since the leaves (also shiny, lance-like and somewhat opblong in shape) die back before it blooms (see "Did you know?" below).

Distribution

Mainly located in the West Midlands and Welsh Borders. It is rarer elsewhere in Britain although there have been some populations introduced in other parts of the country.

Habitat

Damp grassy places. This wild flower is perfectly suited to wet meadows however it is rarely found in such habitats as it poses a danger to livestock and thus is eradicated. More often it can be seen along woodland rides and clearings where it poses less of a threat.

Best time to see

True to form, this Autumn crocus flowers late in the year although often before its namesake. Look out for it between August and October.

Did you know?

This wild flower is often called "Naked Ladies", possibly because no leaves adorn it when it blooms. According to the poet and naturalist Geoffrey Grigson, this was a sentiment shared across the world: in France it is known as dames sans chemise (ladies without a chemise); in Germany Nakende Huren (naked whores) and even its Czech name translates as "the naked one".

More late blooming wild flowers: